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Worship with Anthony Evans

Shake off that routine faith once and for all. If it’s time to get serious and honest about your spiritual life, the Priscilla Shirer Simulcast event will pull you from the grasp of routine faith with the uncompromising truth of Scripture paired with the power of prayer and worship. Are you ready? Bring Priscilla to your church or community in 2017.

Ap ril 8, 2017


Events subject to change without notice.

Contents 43 22

Read more about congregational worship on page 12.

COVER SECTION 12 Finding our voice Why the decline of congregational singing matters — and how to fix it. By Bob Smietana

18 Sound theology Teaching your people through music: A conversation with Keith Getty. By Bob Smietana

20 In harmony How worship works in concert with other church ministries to make disciples. By Mike Harland

FEATURES 22 H  elp! I have a heretic in my church Don’t panic. While research shows confusion among evangelicals over core Christian doctrine, there’s hope for your congregation. By Bob Smietana

27 Echoes of the Reformation

Why the five solas are still crucial to who we are as Christians. By Brandon D. Smith



30 Church as unifier In today’s fragmented culture, could the church be an oasis of unity? By Aaron Earls

37 Not an island Seven dangers of leading in isolation. By Ron Edmondson

38 Church unplugged Three cautions for Christians who download sermon podcasts. By Trevin Wax

40 Rescuing the church tourist Helping people connect and commit. By Roger Palms

43 Immersed in ministry Training the next generation of pastors. By Colin Smith

IN EVERY ISSUE 4 Inside F&T 60 Years of Facts & Trends. By Carol Pipes

5 From My Perspective Church trends in 2017 By Thom S. Rainer



7 Insights Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting the church and our world.

34 Groups Matter Laying the cultural foundation of your church. By Michael Kelley

46 Calibrate Responding to a friend who’s walked away from God. By David Sanford

48 On Our Radar Relevant and practical resources for you and your church.

JOIN US ONLINE FactsAndTrends.net Can’t wait until the next issue? Make sure to visit FactsAndTrends.net for exclusive online content. Read additional pieces from our writers and editors, as well as contributions from other Christian leaders.

FactsAndTrends @FactsAndTrends

Facts & Trends • 3


60 years of Facts & Trends


n January 1957 the first issue of Facts & Trends, then called the Newsletter, rolled off the presses. Facts & Trends finds its origins in the desire to communicate with pastors and church leaders about the trends that affect the church while offering biblical solutions for ministry in the local church. First issue in 1957 For the past 60 years, the editors and writers of this publication have brought its readers articles about everything from church budgets and baptisms to leadership and the future of the church in North America. I never tire of hearing from readers who say they’ve been reading Facts & Trends since their early days in ministry. Whether you’ve been with us for decades or picked up a copy for the first time, I hope you’ll find our publication to be a valuable resource to your ministry. With an affinity for research, we’re always looking at what’s happening now, what’s changing, and what’s emerging in the future. This issue is no exception. In our cover story, senior writer Bob Smietana explores the decline of congregational singing and why that’s a bad thing. Several worship pastors offer advice on how to engage people in worship through singing. We want to be careful here not to equate worship with music. Worship is certainly broader than a song service on Sunday morning. Worship is lived out in our lives every day as a heartfelt response to the supreme worthiness of Christ. But corporate worship, which includes singing, is an important function in the body of Christ. Throughout Scripture we see God’s people singing to God and about God to one another. In Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, Paul tells the church to sing to God with gratitude and speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Singing is good for the soul and is a testimony about the God we serve. We spread seeds of the gospel on the breath of our worship. Facts & Trends also sat down with modern-hymn writer Keith Getty to talk about the importance of teaching theology through the songs we sing. And LifeWay Worship’s Mike Harland writes about music ministry and its role in discipleship. Also in this issue, we unpack a recent study by LifeWay Research, which shows confusion among evangelicals over core Christian doctrine. Michael Kelley writes about laying the cultural foundation of your church. And Ron Edmondson points out the dangers of leading in isolation. Since 1957, Facts & Trends has been providing Christian leaders with relevant information, practical ministry ideas, and biblical resources. It’s my hope that we will continue to serve Christian leaders in their mission of making disciples. Carol Pipes, Editor @CarolPipes | Carol.Pipes@LifeWay.com 4 • Facts & Trends

Volume 63 • Number 1 • Winter 2017 Facts & Trends is designed to help pastors, church staff, and denominational leaders navigate the issues and trends impacting the church by providing information, insights, and resources for effective ministry. Production Team Editor | Carol Pipes Managing Editor | Lisa Cannon Green Senior Writer | Bob Smietana Online Editor | Aaron Earls Graphic Designer | Katie Shull

LifeWay Leadership President and Publisher | Thom S. Rainer Senior Editor | Marty King

Contributors Ron Edmondson, Mike Harland, Michael Kelley, Gary Locke, Roger Palms, David Sanford, Brandon D. Smith, Colin Smith, and Trevin Wax

Advertising Send advertising questions/comments to: Facts & Trends Advertising One LifeWay Plaza, MSN 192 Nashville, TN 37234 Email: Carol.Pipes@LifeWay.com Media kits: FactsAndTrends.net/Advertise This magazine includes paid advertisements for some products and services not affiliated with LifeWay. The inclusion of the paid advertisements does not constitute an endorsement by LifeWay Christian Resources of the products or services.

Subscriptions For a free print subscription to Facts & Trends, send your name, address, and phone number to FactsAndTrends@LifeWay.com.

Permissions Facts & Trends grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be photocopied for use in a local church or classroom, provided copies are distributed free and indicate Facts & Trends as the source. Contact Us: Email - FactsAndTrends@LifeWay.com Mail - F  acts & Trends, One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234-0192 Facts & Trends is published quarterly by LifeWay Christian Resources. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, copyright 2009. Used by permission.



3 Important Trends for the New Year


have been writing about church trends for 30 years. I do this work because I care about church leaders and want to see them lead their churches to greater health. Watching trends and thinking about how one might respond is essential to effective leadership. Based on some patterns I observed the past year, here are three important trends for 2017.

Trend #1. Longer pastoral tenure. I believe we’ll see the pastor’s average tenure in a local church increase over the next several years, which is good for churches. This trend is being led by Millennial pastors. These younger pastors do not desire to climb the ladder to larger churches. More than anything, they are community-centric. They want to stay and make a long-term difference in their communities. Many of these younger pastors are going into churches with the goal of staying a while. My youngest son, Jess, told me recently he’d like to stay in his current church at least until his youngest child graduates from high school. That would mean staying for about two decades. Imagine what might take place if pastors stayed at churches 10 or more years. Trend #2. Renewed emphasis on practical ministries. Churches in the U.S. have seen a much needed renewal of theological training in classical disciplines and doctrine. That need remains, but more leaders are seeking training in leadership, relational skills, and other practical ministries. Leaders want to know the how along with the what. They are looking for practical solutions built on biblical truths. Many local churches are beginning to address this need through ministry residency programs and internships, as well as partnerships with seminaries and Bible colleges. For example, Family Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, led by pastor Jimmy Scroggins, has developed a two-year church planting residency program to train leaders for their church planting strategy in South Florida. They’ve partnered with two seminaries so residents can receive credit hours for the program. Family Church also provides internships for students interested in ministry. Interns serve side-by-side with the church’s leadership to gain practical ministry experience.

Programs like this ministry combine classical theological training with practical application in local church ministry. Trend #3. The shift toward continual learning. We’ve seen convincing anecdotal evidence that the pastors and church staff who have seen the greatest fruit in their churches are ones who are intentional and strategic about their continual These younger pastors do not learning. These churches are seeing the fruits of evangedesire to climb the ladder to larger lism, greater assimilation and churches. More than anything, discipleship, and less conflict. There is strong evidence of a they are community-centric. correlation between healthy churches and staff who continue — Thom S. Rainer to develop as leaders. Some go the path of more formal education, but more are receiving coaching through intentional continual learning programs like the ministry we developed called Church Answers. The availability of not only the Internet, but also live streaming, has opened the doors to all kinds of opportunities to learn. An ancillary trend to this one is the increase in number of mentors and coaches for pastors and staff. I delve deeper into the continual learning trend in my 50 State Virtual Tour addressing the five seismic shifts taking place in the church today. You can register for an upcoming webcast at ThomRainer.com/virtualtour. By no means are these all the trends I see for the New Year. I’ve developed a list of 10 major trends for churches in 2017 at ThomRainer.com. These trends will have an effect on pastoral ministry for years to come. How will they impact you and your church? THOM S. RAINER (@ThomRainer) is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.


Facts & Trends • 5

FactsAndTrends.net Exclusive content available on our website Former Pastors: Here’s Why We Quit A study from LifeWay Research revealed exactly what led hundreds of former senior pastors to leave the ministry. Comparing pastors who stayed and those who left can give churches and ministers a better picture of what makes for a healthy ministry.

6 Reasons Millennials Aren’t at Your Church Why aren’t there any millennials at your church? It may be because the way you do church gives young adults the impression you don’t want them there. They may not be rejecting Jesus as much as they’re rejecting your methodology.

What Matters Most to Americans Looking for a New Church? About half of Americans have searched for a new church at some point in their lives. So what makes them visit a congregation and what makes them stay? Pew Research found some interesting information churches need to know.

Alex Kendrick: How to Kick-Start Your Year With Prayer The writer and director of War Room, Alex Kendrick shares a model for prayer that can help Christians start their new year right. Prayer is not a spare tire to pull out for emergencies, he says, but the steering wheel for your life.




6 • Facts & Trends




Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world



bout a quarter of Americans (22 percent) say they currently attend religious services no more than a few times a year but used

to go more frequently. A study from Pew Research

Top 5 reasons people stopped attending religious services regularly


found these people previously attended religious services on a regular basis, but now they’re part of the 49 percent of Americans who rarely attend. What happened?


For 67 percent of them, it had nothing to do with their beliefs. They didn’t walk out the doors one


Sunday morning and pledge to never return because of a theological disagreement.


Instead, it was a practical (50 percent) or relational (17 percent) reason.

SOME PEOPLE ATTEND SERVICES MORE OFTEN In the same study, Pew found more than a quarter of Americans (27 percent) go to religious services at least once or twice a month, but there was a time in their adult lives when they attended less often.

Top 5 reasons people started attending religious services more frequently


Facts & Trends • 7


Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world



ost Americans believe in God, the Bible, and a few heresies,



according to a new study from

52% The Bible was written for each person to interpret as he or she chooses.

LifeWay Research. The online survey of 3,000 Americans found reasons for hope


The Bible alone is the written word of God.



and concern. Many Americans believe in the Trinity, the resurrection, and the


authority of Scripture. Still, confusion abounds about the details of theology. More than half of Americans say the Holy Spirit is a force, not a person. Many believe Jesus was created by God. And most think



60% By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven.

sin isn’t really a big deal and a little bit of work will get you into heaven. See related story on page 22.

Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.




SIN 74% 65% Everyone sins a little, but most people are by nature good.

Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.

28% 19%


7% Note: Totals may not equal 100% due to rounding.

8 • Facts & Trends



56% There is one true God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

27% The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.





hen it comes to faith, parents still play an important role. Most Americans tend to stick with


the religious tradition they were born into, especially if both parents shared that faith.


Worshipping alone or with family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.

29% 29%


My local church has the authority to withhold the Lord’s Supper and exclude me from the church fellowship.*


Of those raised by Protestants,

79% are still Protestant Of those raised by Catholics,

62% are still Catholic


Of those raised by Nones,



are still Nones


58% God continues to answer specific prayers.

There is little value in studying or reciting historical Christian creeds and confessions.

24% 26%



*Among self-identified Christians who attend on religious holidays or more Source: LifeWay Research PHOTOS BY ISTOCKPHOTO.COM


Americans from mixed religious homes tend to follow Mom’s faith.

48% Following dad’s religion: 28% Following neither: 24% Following mother’s religion:

Source: PewResearch.org Facts & Trends • 9


Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world



bout half of adults in the United States have gone shopping for a new church home or other religious congregation at some point in their lives, according to Pew Research. The most common reason: Moving. One in 3 shoppers for a new place of worship (34 percent) went looking because of a move. One in 10 (11 percent) got married or divorced. Another 1 in 10 disagreed with a former pastor or other clergy. Seven percent had problems with their old place of worship. Five percent had a change in personal beliefs.

What matters most when choosing a new house of worship? Quality of sermons 83%

Feeling welcomed by leaders 79%

Style of services


Location 70%

Education for kids 56%

Friends/family in the congregation 48%

Volunteering opportunities 42%

Other factors 29% Source: Pew Research



kipping worship services might just kill you, according to a new study. The long-term study of about 75,000 women found those who attended religious services more than once a week cut their risk of dying by a third. It’s one of the latest attempts to find out how faith and spirituality affect health. Researchers at Harvard University examined data from the Nurses’ Health Study, a national survey that includes data on diet, health, and lifestyle, and tracked participants from 1992 to 2012. All the nurses had been free of heart disease and cancer when they joined the study. Those who attended The study started with religious services more 74,534 women. More than 13,000 had died by the end of than once a week were the study period. Those who 33 percent less attended religious services more than once a week were likely to have died 33 percent less likely to have than those who never died than those who never attended services. They also attended services. They lived about five months also lived about five longer. Going once a week reduced months longer. the risk of dying by 26 percent. Going once in a while still helped—those who attended less than once a week still had a 13 percent reduced risk of mortality. Those who attended more than once a week also had reduced risks of cancer and heart problems. Going to religious services seems to reduce smoking and depression while giving people more social support and a more hopeful attitude, said Harvard epidemiologist Tyler VanderWeele. VanderWeele said researchers aren’t sure exactly how the connection between worship attendance and health works. But the connection is strong, he told Facts & Trends in an email. “In an era in which people increasingly self-identify as spiritual but not religious, the study raises the question as to whether there might be something more powerful in religious life than simply solitary spirituality,” he told Facts & Trends. Source: JAMA Internal Medicine

10 • Facts & Trends





mong the 20 nations with the world’s biggest economies, India has been labeled the worst place to be a woman. “It’s a culture where women are oppressed, where women don’t get a lot of encouragement,” said Paige Greene, director of adult live events for LifeWay Christian Resources.

In a first-of-its-kind effort to reach those women, LifeWay partnered with Hyderabad Baptist Church in

southern India for “Wonderfully Made,” a women’s event featuring speaker and author Priscilla Shirer. “People were blown away by the passion that Priscilla brings,” said Ashish Thomas, chief strategist for B&H Publishing Group in India and Asia. “They’re just hungry for the truth.” The early October event drew an estimated 12,000 people, Thomas said.


Facts & Trends • 11

Why the decline of congregational singing matters–and how to fix it By BOB SMIETANA

12 • Facts & Trends




oo many songs. Not enough singers. That’s the problem facing many congregations these days, says Tony Payne, veteran worship leader and associate professor of music at Wheaton College. Whether a church plays hymns or the latest worship songs, fewer people want to sing along, he says.

“There are a lot of people standing there mute during worship.” Congregational singing has long been a staple of Protestant churches, ever since the Reformation, when “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was the latest hit worship song. And today churches have more songs to choose from than ever before. LifeWay Worship, for example, has a catalog of 4,000 worship songs, while Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) has 300,000—all available at the click of a button. Yet Payne and other veteran worship leaders worry congregational singing is on the decline. That’s bad news, says Rick Eubanks, pastor of worship and students at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Burleson, Texas. Congregational singing is an essential part of Christian worship, he says. When churches don’t sing together, something vital is missing. “Gathering for worship is not about watching other people perform,” he says. “And it’s not about the music; it’s about allowing people to connect with God.” How did we get here? Mike Harland, director of LifeWay Worship, says a number of factors have

contributed to the decline in congregational singing. Among them: the fact that there are fewer places for congregation members to sing in church, in large part due to the decline of choirs. In 1998, 54 percent of American churches had a choir, according to the

The gathering of the body of Christ is a body that ought to be singing. — Mike Harland, LifeWay Worship

National Congregations Study. By 2012, fewer than half had a choir (45 percent). Larger evangelical churches, in particular, have steered away from choirs—in part due to finances and in part because they’ve embraced contemporary styles of music. More than two-thirds (69 percent) had choirs in 1998. By 2012, just over a third (36 percent) had choirs. That’s troubling, say the authors of the National Congregations Study, as


it means fewer lay people have a role to play in worship. “The decline of choirs is worth examining in its own right because singing in the choir is one of the most common ways, along with Bible studies, for people to become more deeply involved in a congregation, and it is the single most common way for lay people to participate actively in gathered worship,” according to the study’s author. Losing a choir can hurt congregational singing, says Eubanks. “A choir can be a permission-giving organization,” he says. “They give people permission to sing along.” Another factor could be the consumerist mindset prevalant in many churches today. “We’ve been taught in our churches and in the Christian marketing subculture around us to treat music as another product to consume—just as we have the rest of our faith,” writes worship pastor Mike Cosper in his book Rhythms of Grace. “If something doesn’t meet our preferences, we’ve learned to discard it, join another church, and buy a different CD. We’ve learned to be spectators on Sundays— listening, enjoying, and critiquing—but the Bible unapologetically calls us to be participants.” If church members don’t come to church with an attitude of worship, they aren’t likely to engage. A 2008 LifeWay Research study found many churchgoers feel disconnected during worship. Almost half (47 percent) of the 2,5000 Protestant churchgoers in the survey said they were often “going Facts & Trends • 13

Gathering for worship is not about watching other people perform. And it’s not about the music; it’s about allowing people to connect with God. — Rick Eubanks, Oak Grove Baptist Church, Burleson, Texas

through the motions” during the singing and prayer portions of worship services. Harland wonders whether churches unintentionally discourage singing during services. About half of white evangelicals attend a church that uses multimedia screens during services, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Turning down the lights makes the screens easier to read. But Harland says it can send an unintended message. “When you turn the lights off and you have theatrical lighting on stage, you’re suggesting to the congregation they are here to watch something rather than participate,” he says. Another factor: singing isn’t always seen as a discipleship strategy. Harland says pastors and music ministers aren’t always on the same page. The music ministry does its own thing at times, rather than being integrated into the mission of the church. And pastors in turn don’t always value the contributions of music ministries. Instead, music is sometimes seen as a warm-up to the sermon. “I think some pastors stopped seeing music ministry as a disciple-making enterprise,” Harland says. Too many songs, too fast Then there’s the overwhelming number of worship songs available to churches. In the past, churches had a limited number of songs they could sing. A 14 • Facts & Trends

hymnal might have about 700 songs, and maybe half of those would be used on a regular basis, says Harland. Now worship leaders can choose from an almost unlimited number of songs, and the most popular worship songs don’t last long. “Musicians like that because they tend to get bored playing the same songs,” says Harland. “They like to play new music, and congregations get lost in the wake of a constant song shuffle.” From 1995-1999, the most popular CCLI songs remained fairly stable. In that period, three of the top five songs stayed in the top five, as did seven of the top 10, and 20 of the top 25. By contrast, from 2011 to 2014 (the last year data is available), none of the top five songs remained the same, and only three of the top 10 songs and 13 of the top 25 remained. Payne worries about the pace of modern worship music. Learning new songs takes time and repetition, he says. He wonders if worship leaders try to rush the process and end up giving up too soon. “We’re constantly learning songs that have a limited shelf life,” says Payne. “In a few months they’ll be gone forever and we’re on to something else.” No one wants to sound bad There’s also the reality that most people don’t often sing in public. Church attendance has become less frequent, so WINTER 2017



people have fewer chances to sing in a group during a month. And corporate singing of any kind has steadily declined in American culture the last half century. It’s not surprising people don’t sing when they’re in church, says Keith Pipes, a veteran worship pastor in Nashville. Singing in a group can feel awkward these days, he says. “There are people who have never sung in an organized group before,” he says. “Then they show up to church and they are asked to sing with a couple hundred people. They may feel that is really odd.” If people don’t feel comfortable with a hymn or worship song, they’re unlikely to sing, says Rita Ruby, a voice teacher and worship leader from Chicago. Singing in public is hard enough, she says. Singing a song you don’t know well in public is worse. “No one wants to sound horrible—especially with someone sitting right in front of you,” she says.

Moving an unengaged audience to full engagement is not an easy task. It may take some time, patience, and intentional training. There’s no magic formula or even one style of worship that will convince people to sing. Fortunately, say Harland and other worship pastors, there are some steps church leaders can take to help congregations enjoy singing and participate. Don’t sing a worship song like it’s on the CD Finding the right key is essential, says Eubanks. Most worship leaders, he says, sing in a key that fits them, so they can lead out as strongly as possible. Unfortunately, people can’t always follow them in that key. Instead, he says, pick a key that has the widest appeal. “A song will be in the key of B flat on the CD, but most people can’t sing that high,” he says. “If we can bring it down


Facts & Trends • 15


to the key of G, that will be OK for most vocal ranges.”

website. Churchgoers can listen ahead of time and be ready to sing.

Take more time to teach a new song

Let the congregation win

Few people can hear a song or hymn once and be ready to sing along. So break down a song into smaller pieces, says Pipes. Take a few minutes to sing the chorus a couple of times until people become familiar with it. Then add the verses. Repetition is also crucial. Don’t be afraid to sing a new song two or three weeks in a row until people learn it, Pipes says.

Harland tries to include a favorite hymn or worship song in every service. It’s usually a song the congregation knows well, one that is set in a comfortable key, and one the congregation loves to sing. With enough wins, the congregation’s confidence will grow. Plus, people will learn to trust the worship leaders—and will be willing to follow them. And don’t forget the power of a familiar hymn—one that’s lodged in the collective memory of a church. Those songs can help a congregation sing without having to worry about remembering the words or how the tune goes.

Tell church members what they will be singing ahead of time Let church members know in advance what songs will be sung on Sunday and provide links to the music in a church newsletter, email, or post on the church’s 16 • Facts & Trends

Engage the congregation Want people to sing? Turn on the lights. WINTER 2017


There’s a joy that comes from singing in church. It builds community and helps churches learn spiritual truths and live them out. — Tony Payne, Wheaton College

Having the room even somewhat illuminated can help the congregation engage in worship. Frank Byers, media director at the Bridge Church in Spring Hill, Tennessee, says church leaders can learn from secular musicians who intentionally take steps to connect with their audience. One of those ways is to make eye contact with audience members. By contrast, he says, many worship leaders close their eyes during the service. That can shut them off from the congregation. “If I don’t look at them, how can I welcome the congregation into worship?” he says. He sees the role of worship leader as a facilitator—helping the congregation as a whole connect with God through singing and worship. “As facilitator, my job is to keep the conversation going,” he says. “My job is to facilitate this conversation between God and His people.” Body language also matters when leading music, says Payne. Worship leaders should guide the congregation through a song—giving them cues and encouraging them to sing. “Something as simple as a smile on your face can give the congregation permission to sing,” he says. “Good pastoral leadership will include wise decisions about songs and dynamics, ensuring that services create space for the congregation to hear themselves, to hear one another, and to join their voices in song,” writes Cosper.

Remember why you sing in the first place Pastors, worship leaders, and congregations have to believe singing matters, or they won’t ever want to sing, says Harland. Churches sing, says Harland, because Scripture expects them to. They also sing because it’s a powerful form of discipleship that marries truth and melody and imbeds that truth in people’s souls. “Melody helps people to remember,” he says. “Singing is a powerful tool for developing followers of Christ.” Pipes says singing also strengthens the community of believers. “In Ephesians 5, Paul writes that we should speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” says Pipes. “When we gather in corporate worship, we’re not only singing to God—we’re singing about God to one another. Through song, we can encourage and instruct our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Our worship through song also serves as a witness to non-Christians sitting in our pews.” There’s a joy that comes from singing in church, says Payne. “It builds community and helps churches learn spiritual truths and live them out.” Harland agrees: “The gathering of the body of Christ is a body that ought to be singing.”

DIG DEEPER •E  ngaging With God by David Peterson •W  orship Matters by Bob Kauflin •R  hythms of Grace by Mike Cosper

BOB SMIETANA (Bob.Smietana@LifeWay.com) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.


Facts & Trends • 17



A conversation with Keith Getty


interview By BOB SMIETANA

hen Keith Getty was young, his parents would take him to missionary suppers at their church in Northern Ireland. After they brought out all the food and the endless cups of tea, the church members would start singing together. Those missionary suppers

and Sunday worship built a deep love for hymns and congregational singing in Getty, who is best known as the co-writer of In Christ Alone. Getty says God’s people have always learned their faith by the “preaching of the Word and the singing of the Word.” He worries some churches have lost sight of the powerful role congregational singing plays in discipleship. He hopes to help churches rediscover the joy and power of singing together in worship. The Gettys’ latest album, Facing a Task Unfinished, champions congregational

singing and global missions. Author of Sing, a book on congregational worship due out in 2017, Getty spoke with Facts & Trends senior writer Bob Smietana at the offices of Getty Music in Nashville. Why does congregational singing matter? Let me start with something the theolo-

gian John Stott once pointed out. In the 21st century, there are more Christians in more countries than ever before. Yet the average Christian in the world knows less about the Bible than the average secularist in the West did in the 1950s. During that time, children sang hymns in school assemblies and had religious instruction in schools. Those things, added to the nominal churchgoing that took place, meant the average non-Christian in the 1950s knew more Bible stories and Christian doctrine than the average evangelical today. Stott believed the way to help Christians flourish in the 21st century is to build deep believers. If we want to survive, never mind thrive, in this century, we have to build deep believers in the church. And throughout history, that

Keith Getty at the piano. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GETTYS

18 • Facts & Trends



has been done in part by congregational singing. Can you give some examples of that? It starts in the Bible. One of the first songs in the Old Testament is the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1–43). God tells Moses, “Teach this song to the people and let it be a witness against them lest they turn away.” In other words, God says, “I teach this song to you not just to sing, not simply because it affects your mind, how you feel, or how you pray, but because it is the very thing you’re going to be judged against.” That’s how important what we sing is. Then there are the Psalms, which show us the canvas of the glory of God—from a God who is almighty, holy, jealous, omnipresent, and who does not tolerate sin to a God who delights in our prayers, leads us like a shepherd, and loves us like a friend. In the New Testament, we have early hymns that established us in Christ. Then there are the hymns of the church fathers such as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Patrick, who are remembered for their hymns. Then there’s Luther, who called for a reformation of the preaching and the singing of the Word because the two are inextricably linked. Throughout all of history, what we sing has been linked to its discipleship potential and capability. You mentioned the importance of the “preaching of the Word and the singing of the Word.” Can you expand on that? God’s people have always learned their faith through the preaching and singing of the Word. We have a vision of heaven where believers from every tribe, nation, and language sing to our Creator and

Redeemer. That is the picture of heaven. And the foretaste of that occurs when God’s people gather and sing together. God has commanded more than 200 times in Scripture to gather and sing together. In the New Testament, Paul writes to churches filled with believers who were cultural enemies, who had linguistic and theological differences, and who were living in uncomfortable circumstances. And what does the Bible tell them to do? Get together and sing. It’s that important. What are some examples of how hymn writers used singing to teach theology? The story I’ve told most often, because I think it puts our challenge in context, is the story of Cecil Frances Alexander. She grew up in County Derry in Northern Ireland, the same county I grew up in. She was so concerned about what kids were singing, she wrote a book called Hymns for Little Children. It was aimed to help children as young as 8 learn doctrines of the faith. She began with, “We believe in one God, Maker of heaven and earth.” To teach that doctrine, she wrote the hymn that begins, “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.” She did the same with, “He became incarnate and was born of a virgin.” How do you describe that mystery to kids? You tell them a story. So she wrote, “Once in royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed.” You take these hymns, shortened down to five or six verses, and they’d still be considered “unsingable” in many large, modern evangelical churches, because there are too many words. Yet these songs were written for 8-year-olds. If we’re going to build a generation of


people who think deep thoughts about God, who have rich prayer lives, and who are the culture makers of the next generation, we need to be teaching them songs with theological depth. What would you tell pastors who want to help their people embrace congregational singing? Remind people of the gospel and the sheer wonder of what we sing about. Then be an enthusiastic singer. Pastors don’t have to be good singers, but they have to love to sing with their church. They should be singing during worship—not checking their notes or their cell phone. Singing with your congregation is an act of love. And it’s a witness that this gospel is the most important thing in your life. Then remember that great songs sing well. Bad songs do not. So sing great songs. Here’s a commonsense approach. Find 20 songs and hymns that sing well in your church. For a month, sing only those songs. If you sing four to five songs a week, you’ll sing all 20 during that month. Then do it again. Gradually, add one or two more songs at a time. Then every time the senior pastor and the worship pastor get together, ask, “How did the congregation sing?” If they sang well, then keep doing what you’re doing. If not, then ask, “How do we fix this?” Finally, remember the hope we have in Christ. I have extraordinary enthusiasm for the church because I believe the message of Christianity is the message of good news and redemption. Our story is one where God wins, where Christ wins. And so we live with an incredible hope. That’s certainly something to sing about. BOB SMIETANA (Bob.Smietana@LifeWay.com) is senior writer for Facts & Trends. Facts & Trends • 19

In harmony I


love singing in church.

For more than 25 years, I’ve served as a worship pastor in a number of churches, large and small. I’ve led choirs and worship teams and helped plan worship services for decades.

I do this because I love music. But even more than that, I love Jesus and want to follow His command to make disciples. That’s the reason I show up for choir rehearsals, spend hours with my pastor planning worship services, and work closely with church musicians around the country. It’s the reason I write songs for worship—I want people to know Jesus and to grow as His disciples. As church leaders, that’s our first priority. But it’s easy to lose sight of that goal. As worship pastors, we can get so caught up in what I call the conservatory approach to music ministry that we lose sight of our mission. This approach focuses on musical excellence and developing great choirs, worship teams, orchestras, and bands. Those are worthy goals, but we run the risk of losing sight of the bigger mission of the church. This can lead to vibrant music programs that are ends in themselves, separated from the rest of the church’s ministries. Senior pastors also can fall into this trap by focusing solely on preaching and Bible teaching and losing sight of music’s place in church. When this happens, musical worship is no longer seen as a form of disciple-making. Instead, it’s reduced to a warmup exercise, getting the congregation ready for the sermon. Often the pastor and the music minister become disconnected rather than part of the same team. They tolerate one another and try to stay out of each other’s way. Instead of complementing one another, these ministries become separated—the preaching ministry has one purpose, the

The songs our people sing become the prayers they will pray in their moments of deepest crisis. — Mike Harland

20 • Facts & Trends



Bible teaching ministry another, and the worship ministry still another purpose. If we’re serious about making disciples, we need to understand these ministries are not separate but should work together for one purpose. And that one purpose is discipleship. Why music ministry matters The correlation between how people think and what they sing is astounding to examine. In medical and scientific communities, much has been learned about the links between music, memory, attitude, and emotion. Unique in God’s creation, people are wired to create melody and rhythm and link them to thought and reason. When those come together, something amazing happens in our souls. We are moved to action and stirred to response. Filmmakers know this—that’s why they put music scores in movies. Even in the age of silent pictures, someone would play a piano in the theater as the movie played. Educators know this—that’s why we learn the alphabet by singing a song. Parents know this— that’s why we use songs to teach simple skills to our young children. Church leaders should know this, too. The songs our people sing become the prayers they will pray in their moments of deepest crisis. The expression of worship from the heart of God’s people turns into songs of worship sung in the congregation, in the waiting room of a hospital, and yes, even at the bedside of believers going home to be with the Lord. Many people sitting in our pews won’t be able to remember the points of our sermons. But almost all will remember the songs we sing. It can be argued that much of what our people know and believe about God comes from the songs

we sing in church. And notice I said sing and not hear. Hearing these songs fails to produce the same effects as singing them. Because this is true, what we sing and how we sing in church matters a great deal to all of us. So what does discipleship look like in a healthy worship ministry? I believe it works in three concentric circles.

a worshipping community, we will not lead our church well in worship. The third and largest circle represents the congregation of our church. We engage them during the corporate times of worship, where we sing, pray, give, testify, and respond— all to build up and encourage one another and to encounter our King and Lord, Jesus Christ. All three circles are essential to a vibrant worship ministry that makes disciples. God gave us the gift of music. With it, we can inform and inspire. We can take truths about God that transform hearts of people and lock those truths into our souls by singing them to each other. And together we can praise our God with songs of devotion and adoration from the deepest places of our heart, soul, and mind. Mike Harland (@MikeHarlandLW) is director of LifeWay Worship Resources.

The first and smallest circle represents those closest to us. We make disciples through worship first by being a worshipping disciple ourselves, through Bible study, private and corporate worship, and leadership in the home with our families in worship. The second and somewhat bigger circle represents the people we serve with in worship ministry—members of the choir, band, orchestra, technical staff, or worship team that we lead. In this community of people connected through ministry purpose, we do more than prepare songs and services. We engage our hearts and minds in message and theology. We pray, we sing, and we worship together. I often tell choirs or teams I lead that God does a work in us before He does a work through us. If we are not

DIG DEEPER •D  oxology & Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader by Matt Boswell


Facts & Trends • 21


I have a heretic in my church By BOB SMIETANA

22 • Facts & Trends




athan Finn loves to talk about heresy. Finn, a church historian and dean of the school of theology and missions at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, says he often gets questions about heresy from students or pastors. They’re often worried someone in their church is a heretic. Most of the time he tells them not to panic. There’s a difference between a Christian who is confused or ill-informed, he says, and a real live heretic. “A difference of opinion does not a heresy make,” says Finn. Finn’s on a crusade these days to safeguard the term “heresy.” He believes it’s often misused to turn minor disagreements into major feuds over faith. A heresy, he says, is a belief that denies a core teaching of the Christian faith and is worthy of condemnation. Denying the resurrection of Jesus or rejecting the Trinity is a heresy, he says. Being confused about how the Trinity works is not. “We are talking about the difference between a Christian and not being a Christian,” he says. The most persistent heresies in church history revolved around the nature of God and the identity of Jesus, says Finn. Among them are: • The idea that Jesus is just a man. • The idea that a generic God rules over the world in a detached way. • The idea that humans are inherently good, and if we work hard enough we will have a blissful afterlife. • The idea that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. A new study from LifeWay Research found some of those heresies still persist. Even churchgoers and those with evangelical beliefs can be confused about the

details of Christian theology, the study found. Researchers surveyed Americans with evangelical beliefs and those who attend worship services at least once a month as part of a larger survey about American views on Christian theology. LifeWay Research found 95 percent of those with evangelical beliefs say the Bible alone is the written Word of God. They also believe there is only one God in three persons (97 percent), that the resurrection of Jesus really happened (98 percent), and that Jesus was both truly God and truly man (85 percent). Churchgoers as a whole agree. Many (77 percent) believe the Bible alone is the written Word of God, that there is only one God in three persons (94 percent), that the resurrection actually happened (91 percent), and that Jesus was truly God and truly man (84 percent). Both groups are confused by the nature of the Trinity. Seventy-one percent of those with evangelical beliefs and 67 percent of churchgoers say Jesus was the “first and greatest being created by God.” Fifty-six percent of those with evangelical beliefs and 63 percent of churchgoers say the Holy Spirit “is a force but is not a personal being.” Distorted theology Brandon Smith, co-host of the Word Matters podcast, saw this confusion firsthand a few years ago while serving at a church in Texas. Another pastor on staff was teaching a Sunday night Bible study on the first chapter of Colossians. He read from Colossians 1:15, which says of Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” The pastor then asked the class, “What does it mean for Jesus to be firstborn?” A longtime church member, who helped run the kids’ ministry, spoke up,


Name that heresy Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. • 52 percent of Americans agree • 67 percent of churchgoers agree

Heresy: Arianism. Named for Arius, an early Christian preacher in Alexandria, this heresy held that though Jesus was divine, there was a time when Jesus did not exist. This heresy was officially rejected at the Council of Nicaea around A.D. 325. Facts & Trends • 23

Name that heresy The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being. • 56 percent of Americans agree • 63 percent of churchgoers agree Heresy: Pneumatomachianism. Officially rejected by the Council of Constantinople around A.D. 381, this belief was championed by so-called “Spirit Fighters,” who claimed the Holy Spirit was not a person.

says Smith. “She said, ‘It means Jesus was created before any of us were,’” he says. The answer shocked Smith, but no one else in the class seemed to notice. One of the pastors then quickly explained why that statement was incorrect. He pointed the class to John 1:1-14, which explains that Jesus was with God and was God from the beginning. Saying that Jesus was created first by God might sound right, but it distorts our understanding of the Trinity, says Smith. Smith says pastors can’t take for granted that people in the pews understand the details of Christian doctrine—even basic beliefs like the Trinity. “Our churches are often starved for theological training because pastors are simply trying to help people make it week-to-week, and rightfully so,” Smith says. “It made me realize that some of the doctrines pastors and Christian leaders teach are not fully communicated to the congregation in a way they can understand.” Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina, says pastors who want to teach theology, especially in sermons, may feel like they’re swimming upstream. Church members often expect practical, self-help sermons that show how Christianity can improve their lives, he says. And pastors at times neglect to show how theology connects to everyday life. “Sadly, most of what I see happening is motivational, inspirational preaching that’s not rooted in Christ,” he says. “It’s, ‘Here’s how to be like David so you can slay your Goliaths and get your best life now.’” Gray, author of The High-Definition Leader: Building Multiethnic Churches in a Multiethnic World, believes theology always has a practical application. But that application has to connect real

24 • Facts & Trends

life to doctrine, he says. For inspiration, he looks to the Apostle Paul, whose writings were often rooted in real-life concerns. He points to Romans 3:21-22: “But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and Prophets—that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction.” That theological belief was used to address conflict in the church at Rome over ethnic differences, says Gray. “His point was that righteousness of Christ makes a new community—therefore we don’t have to look down on each other,” says Gray. Gray’s own interest in theology was rooted in practical concerns as well. He grew up in a Jehovah’s Witness home, then attended a Mormon university. When he accepted Christ as an adult, he had to figure out doctrines like the Trinity, in order to explain his new faith to his family and friends. So he devoured books on theology and learned from Christian leaders who knew more about theology than he did. Most of his sermons weave theological concepts with biblical teaching. He often uses theological terms—like the hypostatic union, which explains the unity between the divine and human natures of Christ—during sermons, with a word of explanation. The church’s small groups all use study questions based on the sermons, which also include theological details. Pastors shouldn’t be afraid to talk about theology, because people in the pew want to learn all they can about God, he says. And they want to know how those truths about God connect to real life. “I like to tell our church, ‘I am a theologian who loves to preach—so I get a chance to talk about great doctrines in WINTER 2017

the context of a messy world,’” he says. Confusion persists among Americans LifeWay’s survey found many Americans in general are also confused about theology. Seven out of 10 Americans (69 percent) agree there is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Six in 10 say Jesus is both divine and human (61 percent). More than half (52 percent) of Americans say Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. And 56 percent say the Holy Spirit is a force rather than a person. The Holy Spirit seems to be particularly confusing: A quarter (28 percent) says the Spirit is a divine being but not equal to God the Father and Jesus. Half (51 percent) disagree. Twenty-one percent are not sure. Many Americans also believe salvation requires good works. Three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) say people must contribute their own effort for personal salvation. Half of Americans (52 percent) say good deeds help them earn a spot in heaven. Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, says most Americans still identify as Christians. But they seem to be confused about some of the details of their faith. “Most people are OK with having contradictory and incompatible beliefs,” McConnell says. Justin Holcomb, author of Know the Heretics, says many people have incomplete or oversimplified theological views. Theological concepts, like the Trinity, are hard to understand, he says. And it’s easy to get them wrong. That’s what happened with many heretics in Christian history, says Holcomb. They were often well-intentioned people who made critical errors.

“They were asking important questions but they were giving wrong answers,” he says. How to treat bad theology To teach theology, churches have developed tools to help people learn the faith, says Holcomb. Some churches recite a creed or statement of belief in worship. Others have put their statement of faith into sets of questions and answers that are easy to remember. Classes on theology are also helpful, says Casey Barton, pastor of Hilmar Covenant Church, in Hilmar, California. Barton runs a series of classes on theology each year, most about four or five weeks long. Recent topics have included the atonement and Christian understandings of marriage. In every class, he’s always trying to point people back to the Bible. Teaching theology, he says, helps people understand the nature of God and their own identity. “This is who God is and this is who you are as the people of God,” he says. Barton also tries to weave theology into his sermons—often using theological terms and defining them as he preaches. When he sees bad theology, he tries to handle it with grace, by explaining the orthodox view of a particular topic and why that view matters. “I tell them, ‘I think this is more faithful to what Scripture says,’” he says. “My role is to bear witness to sound doctrine.” Finn believes every church needs an intentional strategy for teaching theology. That strategy can include using hymns, Bible studies, even worship elements like creeds or statements of belief to help teach theology. Finn also reminds pastors that many Christians haven’t been taught doctrine or theology. So they may have picked


Some of the doctrines pastors and Christian leaders teach are not fully communicated to the congregation in a way they can understand. — Brandon Smith

Facts & Trends • 25

Name that heresy People have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative. • 79 percent of Americans agree. • 85 percent of churchgoers agree. Heresy: Pelagianism. Named for the British monk Pelagius, this early belief held that original sin did not prevent people from turning to God on their own, without help from the Holy Spirit. Rejected at the Council of Carthage in A.D. 418.

up some incomplete or mistaken views along the way. When he talks to pastors who are concerned that someone in their church has a heretical belief, Finn generally asks two questions: • “How does the belief in question contradict the core of the Christian faith?” • “What role does a person who holds the belief in question play in the life of the church?” Those questions can help a pastor know how to proceed. Smith says that’s what happened in his church in Texas. A pastor graciously explained why the church member was wrong and helped her understand the orthodox position more clearly. “I don’t think she felt accused or condemned at all,” he says. “We lovingly just moved the conversation toward truth, but didn’t call her out.” If new Christians in the church are confused about the Trinity, they might need more teaching on the subject, says Finn. But if an older church member or someone in a leadership role denies a core doctrine like the Trinity, that needs more direct intervention. More than anything, Finn says, pastors shouldn’t be afraid to talk about theology. Church members want to know

the truth about God, he says. There’s usually no need to oversimplify things, he says. Thankfully, there is an “embarrassment of riches” for churches to draw upon when teaching theology, says Aaron Armstrong, brand manager for The Gospel Project, a Bible study curriculum designed to teach essential theological doctrines of the Christian faith. Armstrong says there are many easy-to-access books, videos, and other resources designed to help Christians understand theology better. Church members can also listen to podcasts such as Word Matters or seminary lectures through services like iTunesU. And pastors can include recommended resources for church members in their sermons. “Give them an insight into what you read and where you are coming from,” he says. And pastors shouldn’t downplay theology in their sermons. “We need pastors to stop saying they aren’t theologians,” he says. “If you’re saying anything about what God is like, you are making a theological statement. You still have things to say that are true about God.” BOB SMIETANA is senior writer for Facts & Trends.

DIG DEEPER • A Theology for the Church by Daniel Akin • Unvarnished Truth by Blake Gideon • The Gospel Project • Word Matters podcast Available at LifeWay Stores and LifeWay.com.

26 • Facts & Trends


Echoes of the



By Brandon D. Smith

n our rapidly changing culture, something that happened five minutes ago can often be forgotten. But this year, we celebrate an event from 500 years ago that still reverberates.

In 1517, a German theology professor named Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church by publishing his 95 Theses and, as legend has it, nailing them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Luther’s theses were a clarion call for the Catholic Church to reform. In short, Luther saw the church drifting away from core biblical truths about the authority of Scripture and the grace found in Christ alone through faith alone. The church’s view of salvation had become centered on man’s efforts rather than on God’s grace. Following Luther’s action, five beliefs emerged as the foundation of the Reformation. The five solas, as they are known today, were birthed out of the German reformer’s convictions and infused into the movement that followed his lead. Centuries later, those beliefs still echo. They still have weight and meaning today. They’re still core to who we are and what we confess as Christians.


Facts & Trends • 27


Scripture Alone All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The church in Luther’s day didn’t grasp this Scripture. The church taught the Pope could access God in a way equal to the Bible. The Pope had as much power as Scripture. But Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is from God and makes Christians “complete.” It’s not Scripture plus anything else. Scripture alone is all we need to learn about God and teach others about God. In our modern world—where authority is often defined by one’s personal beliefs—Christians need to be reminded Scripture alone is our authority. It’s easy to look to someone or something else to find truth or wisdom, but Scripture is God-breathed. It is literally God’s words breathed out into ink. Scripture is the ultimate deposit of truth and wisdom.


Grace Alone For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14

Grace is most easily defined as “unmerited favor.” God gives grace because He’s loving and merciful, not because we deserve it. It’s free. Absolutely, positively free. Just as in Luther’s day, we need to 28 • Facts & Trends

make sure people understand grace can’t be bought or earned. We are saved by grace alone. God in His Word tells us we have no shot of earning it. And that’s OK, because Jesus is walking, talking grace—grace with 10 fingers and 10 toes. The fact that His feet touched the earth’s soil shows us we couldn’t do it alone. God Incarnate had to come here to live the life we couldn’t live and die the death we should’ve died. Instead of looking for grace anywhere else, Christians must be constantly reminded the gift of grace is found in the perfect Gift-Giver (James 1:17).


Faith Alone For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

In this verse, we see grace and faith together. The fact that we even have faith is a gift of grace! We are justified—declared right with God—through faith alone. This sola is perhaps the cornerstone of the Reformation. Luther’s struggle with his own sin, his continued feeling of absolute wretchedness, reminded him that faith was all he had. He couldn’t offer anything else. Knees on the ground and palms in the air, he had faith that God saved him. That was his only hope, and it was the only hope he needed. Though we’re always tempted to try to justify ourselves, we can never forget we are justified based on Christ’s righteousness and nothing else. It’s not about what we do but about what He’s done.



Christ Alone Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

In Timothy George’s Theology of the Reformers, he quotes Luther reminding the wayward leaders of his day: “You are not lords over the pastoral office.… You have not instituted the office, but God’s Son alone has done so.” When it comes to salvation: Christ alone. And, despite their importance according to Hebrews 13:17, even when it comes to church leaders: Christ alone. There is no Christianity without Christ. Sometimes, when we’re caught up in ourselves or even our churches and ministries, we forget we don’t own Christianity. We’re on Christ’s mission; He’s not on ours. There is no grace without Christ. There is no faith without Christ. Frankly, there is no Scripture without Christ, for Scripture is about Him (John 5:39). No man is perfect, but one Man was. Let us continue to remind others and ourselves that grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is our only hope for salvation.


Glory to God Alone The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Psalm 19:1

I noted earlier that sola fide might be the cornerstone of the Reformation. If that’s the case, soli Deo gloria might be

the mortar that holds the stones together. In short, God’s glory is the total sum of who He is and what He does. He takes second place to no one. God’s glory is the proclamation that He is sovereign over all things. We see it clearly in creation (He is sovereign, all-powerful, and beautiful) and in salvation (He is loving, just, and merciful). Because of our sin, we are glory hogs. We want—crave—glory. Christians should always remember, however, that God’s glory is the aim of our worship. If we could save ourselves, we could share glory with God. But as we know, we can’t save ourselves. Glory to God, however, He has saved us! Doctrine is not an academic add-on to the Christian life. What we believe is a filter for everything we do. According to Paul in Romans 10:9, what we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts is a matter of our salvation, of our eternity. Luther and the Reformers fought for everyday Christians, not just scholars or seminarians. As David VanDrunen points out in his book God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life, the church in Luther’s day didn’t deny the importance of Scripture, grace, faith, and Christ in salvation. But if you had asked about “the little word alone, we would soon find genuine disagreement.” Once we understand that alone really means alone, we can stand before God with nothing to offer but humble worship for who He is and what He has done. The Reformation still echoes today, if we are willing to listen. BRANDON D. SMITH (@BrandonSmith85) works with the Christian Standard Bible and teaches theology at California Baptist University. He’s also co-author of Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians and co-hosts the Word Matters podcast.


DIG DEEPER •E  choes of the Reformation Bible Study (LifeWay) It’s been 500 years since Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses that served as the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. This Bible study examines the five core truths that came from the Reformation. These five solas, like the Reformation itself, are intensely practical. They were the DNA of the Reformation and are still the DNA of the church today. We stand on the shoulders of Christians in the past, and knowing where we came from will help us keep moving forward with passion and biblical clarity. (6 sessions)

Facts & Trends • 29

Church as unifier



By aaron earls n the evening of February 28, 1983, most of America came to a halt for the most important event of the year. “School board meetings, athletic contests and civic events were canceled,” according

to The New York Times. “On college campuses, studies—even in the throes of midterm examinations—were forgotten.” What could draw an entire nation together like that? The final episode of the long-running television series M*A*S*H. That one show united Americans of all backgrounds—at least for a water-cooler conversation the next day. Today, the illusion of a common culture has fragmented. What lies underneath has been exposed as isolated parts often warring against one another and actively working to avoid those who are different. If we are honest, churches have not always been an example of unity. There’s a reason Martin Luther King Jr. and others have said Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the nation. Yet the church has a biblical command to pursue unity. We also have a heavenly vision of the ultimate fulfillment of that pursuit. The church can and should fill that role in culture, but it won’t be easy. A Nation Divided Many have concluded our nation is hopelessly divided. Looking at much of the evidence, it’s hard to argue. Red states and blue states not only vote differently in the presidential election but also often view issues

30 • Facts & Trends


from completely contrary perspectives. In urban areas, different racial communities have vastly different experiences within the same city limits. Generations often appear antagonistic toward one another as age groups jostle for cultural power. The split is obvious in politics. Before the 2016 election, according to Pew Research, 47 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters said no close friends supported Donald Trump, and 31 percent of Trump supporters said no close friends supported Clinton. Divided over politics, religion, and race, people now watch TV shows targeted to niche audiences. Even within individual families, the kids could be watching YouTube while Dad watches a football game and Mom streams a movie on Netflix. Social media, which ostensibly is where we should be exposed to varying opinions, has instead made matters worse. Pew Research found only 6 percent of whites but 24 percent of African-Americans say most of the posts they see on social media are about race or race relations. A Wall Street Journal analysis of Facebook data found that when people from across the political spectrum discuss the same issue online, they see strikingly different stories being shared—virtually all of which support an individual’s preconceived political ideas. In The Big Sort, journalist Bill Bishop explores how the economic freedom and safety of America have allowed people to segregate themselves into increasingly homogeneous communities. This type of sorting is unprecedented, says Mark Mulder, sociology professor at Calvin College. “We’ve never experienced this much mobility and choice of where we live, shop, and play.” Many will drive across town to shop at the store they’re used to instead of visiting the unknown store across the street.

What About the Church? Bishop illuminates an alarming reality: Churches not only participate in this division but in many cases lead the charge. “American churches today are more culturally and politically segregated than our neighborhoods,” Bishop writes. Citing social research, he finds most churches aim for cultural conformity. Evangelizing unreached people groups through those who share the same language and customs is a technique missionaries discovered on the field, he says. But in America, churches turned the missionaries’ ideas into marketing principles designed to draw in a target audience of likeminded congregants. In turn, churches have turned loyal members into customers who will shop around to find a church full of similar people. “It’s been proven,” Mulder says, “that homogeneous churches tend to grow and thrive.” Most churches are homogeneous and like it. “The goal of the church in other times was to transfigure the social tenets of those who came through the door,” Bishop writes. “Now people go to church not for how it might change their beliefs but for how their precepts will be reconfirmed.” LifeWay Research found 8 in 10 congregations are made up of one predominant racial group. Yet most churchgoers believe their church is just fine. Two-thirds (67 percent) say their church has done enough to encourage diversity. Only 4 in 10 feel their church needs to become more ethnically diverse. Evangelicals (71 percent) are most likely to think their church is diverse enough, while whites (37 percent) are least likely to believe their church should become more diverse. This is not necessarily surprising, says Mulder. “When they have a choice, people tend to want to be around people who are as similar to them as possible— it’s terribly affirming,” he says.


When they have a choice, people tend to want to be around people who are as similar to them as possible. — Mark Mulder

Facts & Trends • 31

The church is the centerpiece of God’s missional work in creation, and it is entrusted with demonstrating the unity and diversity that is in store for us in the kingdom. — Walter Strickland

And local churches have consistently chosen to be homogeneous. They’ve been content to reach out to people who look and think like those already in the pews, but Steve Patton says churches have a greater calling. “The church has the full responsibility to encourage diversity in the body like no one else on Earth,” says Patton, a writer and pastor at Reach Church in Kirkland, Washington. In Revelation 7, Patton says, we see what the church is intended to be. “John said he was shown heaven and in it he saw an innumerable multitude of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue,” he says. “Diversity in the body is visible in heaven—notice John actually saw their color in heaven; it isn’t color blind—and should be fully visible on Earth.” Walter Strickland, special advisor to the president for diversity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, also points to Revelation 7 as the goal. “The church is the centerpiece of God’s missional work in creation, and it is entrusted with demonstrating the unity and diversity that is in store for us in the kingdom,” he says. Churches content to remain homogeneous “miss what Christ died to achieve. He died to restore all that was broken in the fall, which includes the relationships that each person has with their brothers and sisters in Christ.” The Way Forward Reflecting the diversity of heaven and being part of the restoration of creation can seem like an overwhelming task for a local church. But there are steps pastors and church leaders can take to make these ideas more of a reality in their local congregation. 1. Engage with those who are different. “Knowing we have a tendency to create homogeneous groups, churches must be more adept at speaking to a variety of listeners,” says John Hawthorne, professor of sociology at Spring Arbor

32 • Facts & Trends

University. He maintains churches must be cautious about assuming others are “like me,” while striving to understand them. Embracing diversity often begins by working with other churches in the community. Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, says a core value for his church is to “form relationships with congregations and ministers of color in our city.” He and a local African-American pastor have developed a friendship and have preached at each other’s churches. 2. Explore your community. Another step may be examining the surrounding community to see whether the church closely mirrors it. “To whatever degree possible, churches need to reflect the demographic of the community around them,” says Sauls. This requires church leaders to be intentional. Strickland offers a rule of thumb for churches. See how far local people typically travel for groceries or gas—that’s the size of community your church should reflect. If someone in your town normally drives 10 minutes to get groceries each week, drive 10 minutes in every direction from your church to discover all the demographics that should be present in your congregation. 3. Look at your leadership team. “The minority groups in the surrounding community must have representation both behind the microphone and at the leadership table,” says Sauls, author of Befriend. “This applies not only ethnically but also generationally, culturally, politically, and socioeconomically.” Patton agrees leadership and staffing are important, but “hiring an ethnic minority won’t necessarily make you aware of your own cultural norms that accidentally create barriers for others.” That takes personal involvement, he says.


4. Build intentional relationships. “Friendships cause you to take inventory,” says Patton. His advice to church leaders: “Intentionally strive to make genuine friendships with people of different backgrounds.” Those relationships can take leaders beyond mere tolerance of others who are different to a place of love. “Love is active, outward, and intentional,” says Patton. That new loving mindset comes from growing as a Christian. “There is no substitute for being mature in Christ,” says Strickland. “Only those who have spent much time with Christ and in His word are humble enough to see the desires of another as more significant than their own and to put personal preferences aside to serve their brothers and sisters.” 5. Be ready to make sacrifices. Leaders and church members will often have to surrender their own preferences for the sake of welcoming others. “Minorities should never have to repent of their culture to connect in a majority church,” says Patton. This requires churches to be open to other ways of doing things. The unifying church can no longer disregard changes by saying, “But we’ve always done it this way.” That shift will not happen at the surface level. It has to go deeper. Mulder maintains it will require sacrifice on the part of leaders and congregants if a church wants to be a cultural unifier. People like to have their cultural perspectives reinforced rather than challenged, so pastors and leaders seeking to shift from a homogeneous church must also be prepared to face consequences— one of which might be resistance from church members.

pel was unity. “May they all be one, as you, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me” (John 17:20). Knowing His message would soon spread from the Palestinian soil to the far reaches of the world, Jesus prayed that His soon-to-be diverse followers would have such oneness that they would echo the relationship He had with the Father. “Jesus shows us that the way this broken and divided culture would truly come to know the love of God and the truth of Jesus that will save them is through seeing the unity of the saints,” says Patton. This is what makes Christian community so countercultural, says Hawthorne. “We spend time with those different from us socially, economically, denominationally, politically, culturally, actually engaging with each other, and we experience the work of the church.” Ironically, this countercultural aspect of the church is appealing to the culture at large. By displaying and declaring the unifying work of Christ embodied through the church, local congregations can be an oasis to a world thirsty for harmony. The importance of unity cannot be overstated, says Patton. “This issue will stand to be either the greatest black mark against the church or the greatest apologetic in this culture,” he asserts. “We haven’t headed down a positive path, but we can still turn things around. For the hope of the glory of God among the living, we must strive for unity.” AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@LifeWay.com) is online editor of FactsAndTrends.net.

DIG DEEPER •T  he Gospel & Racial Reconciliation (Gospel for Life) by Russell Moore •U  nited: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity by Trillia Newbell Available at LifeWay Stores and LifeWay.com.

Prayer for Unity As Jesus faced the cross, His prayer for all of those who would believe the gosFACTSANDTRENDS.NET

Facts & Trends • 33

Laying the cultural foundation of your church By Michael Kelley 34 • Facts & Trends




o one comes to a building in its early stages and marvels at the extensive nature of its rebar. Instead, we wait until the structure actually starts to go up. We don’t want to see what makes it stable—we want to see what makes it pretty.

Even though rebar isn’t pretty, it’s incredibly necessary. Rebar gives a building’s foundation its stability and strength. It holds everything together below the surface, making a structure resistant to the forces of time and nature. Without rebar and a firm foundation, a building collapses. An organization’s culture, especially in a church, is like rebar. Culture is core to who we are and shapes everything we do. It is the summation of what we value, what we believe, and what makes us unique as a church. In a church, we have both the privilege and the weighty responsibility of constantly framing and tying rebar. We do this through common everyday decisions that might not seem significant at the time, but nevertheless shape what’s to come. It happens when we say “no” to some things and “yes” to others; it happens in the way we give or don’t give announcements from the stage; it happens in the way we equip our leaders. Every one of these decisions does more than employ an action; it teaches something to the church. With each of these decisions and actions, we are laying the cultural foundation of our churches by teaching those around us. The way we read the Bible, the songs we choose to sing, the manner in which we take communion or the offering—all of these are teaching tools. The problem is that because they also involve tasks, we often skip past asking what they teach in order to get to the utility they provide. If this becomes our normal practice,

then someday we will turn around and wonder why this church, the one God called us to and gave us vision for, behaves the way it does. And at that point we can’t simply change the practice, because the practice has been propped up by the culture we have unknowingly created. Instead, we must be cognizant that every decision reinforces something; every action is a teaching moment. If we stay aware, we can ensure the decisions we make accurately reflect the culture we are creating. Nowhere is this more important than in the small group environment. The small group is one of the easiest windows into whether the culture of the church is truly understood and embraced by the people. Staff members aren’t in direct control; a secondary person has been handed the responsibility to lead the group in accordance with the culture of the overall body of Christ. Just as vocational pastors tend to suffer from culture blindness, so do small group leaders. And just as pastors are always teaching something about the culture of the church, so are small group leaders. Think about it—what happens when people walk into that small group for the first time? Do they eat food and talk for half of the group time? How much time do they spend praying for one another? Do they leave knowing anything deeper about one another’s lives? Do they merely push “play” on a DVD and expect spiritual transformation to occur? While some of those options might


Facts & Trends • 35

be easy, the bigger question is whether they contribute to the culture we want to create in that group, and therefore in the church as a whole. How, then, can we lay the rebar of church culture at the small group level to avoid culture blindness?

1. Articulate your culture Culture is hard to pin down, but it’s important to be able to say in a few words who you are as a church. It’s unfair to expect yourself or others to operate according to a culture that hasn’t yet been defined. Just as rebar must be solidly tied and framed, we must also be able to put words around who we are as a church and what God has called us to do.

2. Define the win

DIG DEEPER • Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini • Smallgroup.com

Available at LifeWay Stores and LifeWay.com.

What are your expectations, according to your culture, for the small group environment? If you can’t answer that question, you are setting up the leader for failure. Is the primary purpose prayer? Teaching? Intimacy in relationships? Depending on how you answer that question, the leader will know what must be done weekly and what can be done weekly. Keep in mind, though, the lower the standard you have for the win, the lower the commitment you’ll have from both the leaders and the people in the group.

Culture, like rebar, isn’t always visible, but it’s always there. The more attention you pay to it in the beginning, the sturdier the building will be in the end. — Michael Kelley, LifeWay

It’s worth taking a careful inventory of the content presented in your group environment to ensure it’s not only quality but also fitting to what you want to accomplish. As you take that hard look, you might consider a tool called smallgroup.com where you can create custom Bible studies that will truly fit the culture you are trying to create. Using this tool will allow you to guard your church culture while ensuring your people are being fed the life-changing Word of God. Culture, like rebar, isn’t always visible, but it’s always there. The more attention you pay to it in the beginning, the sturdier the building will be in the end. Michael Kelley (@_MichaelKelley) is director of Groups Ministry at LifeWay Christian Resources.

3. Feed the people Don’t neglect the amazing opportunity you have in small groups. These are life-changing environments where people learn to walk in intimacy and holiness with God and one another. As much as we may hate to admit it as church leaders, these environments have an even greater impact than the large group worship time, because in these pockets of community, anonymity is impossible.

36 • Facts & Trends





By Ron Edmondson ot long ago, I sat with a new pastor who is trying to hold a church together long enough to help it build again. The previous pastor left town after a series of bad decisions.

I’m happy to help this new pastor through this crisis. But I also worry about the former pastor who flamed out too early—the one who didn’t finish well. The one who left a church in disarray. Sadly, I see this all the time. This pastor suffered from the same temptation any pastor faces. His number one problem was, in my opinion, leading in isolation. No one in his life knew him well enough to recognize when something was wrong and confront him when necessary. Leading in isolation is displayed in numerous ways to the detriment of the church or organization. Here are seven dangers of leading in isolation.

Moral failure Without accountability, many people will make bad decisions because no one appears to be looking. We’re more susceptible to temptation when we are alone.


energy from sharing life with other people. When a leader feels alone, the likelihood of burnout, emotional stress, and even depression increases.

Disconnected leadership We are all vulnerable to self-deception at times. Just because there’s no apparent crisis doesn’t mean all is well. A disconnected leader is clueless to the real problems in the organization and is fooled into believing everything (including the leader) is wonderful.

Control freak Insecure leaders don’t want anyone to find out they don’t know all the answers. Rather than asking for help, they try to control every decision and panic when others question them.

Limiting other people The leader in isolation fails to communicate, invest, and release, which keeps other leaders from developing on the team. This leaves the organization unprepared when the leader leaves.

Limiting the leader Isolated leaders never reach their full potential because they refuse to let others help them grow. They also can’t learn from anyone else, so they never benefit from other people’s perspective.

A stunted organization The leader who leads in isolation keeps the organization from being all it can be. The leader sets the bar for how far an organization can go. If the leader is in isolation, the organization will stagnate. Are you living in isolation? Do you need to get out of the protective shell you’ve made for yourself? Be honest. And ask for help. I realize many pastors of smaller churches feel they have no option but to lead in isolation. You feel you have no one you can truly trust in your church and you have isolated yourself, for various reasons, from others in the community. As hard as it may seem, and as great as the risk may appear, you must find a few people to share your struggles with to avoid these dangers. The health and future success of your church depend on it. RON EDMONDSON (@RonEdmondson) is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read more from him at RonEdmondson.com.

We are made for community. We gain FACTSANDTRENDS.NET

Facts & Trends • 37

Church unplugged THREE CAUTIONS FOR CHRISTIANS WHO DOWNLOAD SERMON PODCASTS t’s never been easier to access good preaching. For hundreds of years, pastors have published sermons in books and pamphlets. In the past century, many pastors expanded their influence and spread their preaching to large numbers through radio broadcasts and cassette-tape ministries. Today, it’s even easier to hear good preaching. You can find popular pastors on the podcast app on your smartphone, or look up their sermons on YouTube or Vimeo. Never before in the history of 38 • Facts & Trends

Christianity has it been so easy to listen to preaching from some of the most popular pastors of our day. I’m grateful for this blessing. I enjoy listening to sermons from some of my



By trevin wax


favorite preachers. I enjoy catching up on what happened at my own church, whenever I’m out of town or have nursery duty. The ability to listen to sermons online or through my phone is a blessing I don’t want to take for granted. But as with all technological advances, potential dangers accompany the benefits. Church leaders should encourage their congregation to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, but help them consider these three cautions: 1. D  on’t devalue the power of preaching in your local congregation.

sermon live online from the comfort of my bed on a Sunday morning, who’s to judge? This person seems to think the only thing going on at church is the delivery of information from one brain to another. As long as I get the message, I’m just fine. What an anemic understanding of what happens when the congregation gathers together! Help the people in your church understand we are not simply receptacles receiving biblical information once a week. The entire experience of worship is formative.

The church gathers to hear to the Word preached. Yes, we can benefit from sermons when we are scattered throughout the city, but there’s something powerful about a preacher addressing a particular congregation in a particular place. Iconic 20th-century British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones famously refused to release his sermons via audio (only now, decades after his death, is the audio available!). He believed the sermon experience was irreplaceable. There is no way to capture all of a sermon’s power in a soundbite or through audio recording. As much as we might benefit from these technologies, we cannot replace (nor should we try) the preaching event itself. Your church probably doesn’t need to go as far as Lloyd-Jones. Make the sermons available, but stress to your people that the shared sermon experience is special and cannot be duplicated outside of the local body.

We are formed through the songs we sing, our interactions with and service to other believers, our seeing one another together in submission to the Word of God, and our coming together to the Lord’s Table. None of those can be done in isolation. If we grow, we grow together, not apart from one another. Don’t let your people get this backward. Listening to sermons online is optional for the Christian. Gathering with the church is not. Switch those around and we are left with a discipleship process that is information-heavy and tailored only to our own preferences, desires, and routine.

2. S  ermon podcasts are optional; gathering with the Church is not.

3. Churches should love their pastor who ministers personally.

How would you respond if someone in your congregation said: If it’s easier to download a podcast or watch the

Teach your congregation to not dismiss the pastors who know and love them, just because their preaching may

If we grow, we grow together, not apart from one another. — Trevin Wax


not rise to the lofty standard of the most famous in our day. It’s not self-serving for any current pastor to help a congregation grasp this lesson. It’s a valuable lesson for the congregation that will extend to future pastors. We can be grateful for the gifts God has given others without downplaying the power of ordinary pastors leading ordinary churches filled with ordinary people. The church needs pastors and leaders and shepherds who sit down across from us and know us, love us, and challenge us. Make being that type of leader your priority. Not every pastor will have the gift of Charles Spurgeon. That’s OK because God didn’t call Charles Spurgeon to your church. God does His sanctifying work through pastors who have multiple gifts. We don’t need great preaching every week, but we do need good, biblical preaching. Never forget the Spirit of God does His work through churches of all sizes, through pastors of all talents, and through believers who desire to see God bring fruit from their lives. We can be grateful for podcasts and sermons online. Church leaders should be encouraged that members of their congregation are looking for more opportunities to hear the Bible preached. But let’s be sure our people see these sermons as a supplement – not a replacement – for the steady, faithful routine of gathering with God’s people, listening to God’s Word, and supporting the shepherd that God has placed before you. A podcast is not a pastor. TREVIN WAX (@TrevinWax) is the Bible and Reference Publisher of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Facts & Trends • 39

Rescuing the




ill was adamant: “I’m sick and tired of church politics. Never again will I join a church.” He vowed not to participate except to attend worship services—as long as those services met his needs. If they didn’t, he’d go elsewhere or nowhere at all. Bill became a “tourist,” as so many church attendees are. He might go to church, but he won’t join or engage in fellowship with others. Separation feels safe. “If I stay at a distance, I won’t get hurt.” Perhaps you’ve met church tourists or know some who drift in and out of your church. They won’t volunteer to teach children because they’re “just visiting.” And they won’t serve on a board or committee because that’s where problems might arise. When a church member has an illness, a — Roger Palms financial problem, or difficulty with a teenage child, the church tourists have nothing to offer. They’ve cut themselves off. And when the church tourists themselves are struggling and need prayer, no one will know about their needs. Church tourists can’t support the church’s ministry or mission because they aren’t willing to commit or engage. And, ultimately, it is to their detriment. We know from Scripture if the branch doesn’t stay closely attached to the vine, it will wither and die. The branch can’t grow, heal, or bear fruit without the nurturing of the vine. What can a church leader do?

“We know from Scripture if the branch doesn’t stay closely attached to the vine, it will wither and die.”


40 • Facts & Trends



Facts & Trends • 41

SUGGESTIONS FOR ENCOURAGING CHURCH MEMBERSHIP 1. Speak on the subject of the vine and the branches (John 15:1–17) and the meaning of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12–31). 2. Give examples of the church body at work in the lives of members. 3. Invite a church member to give a brief testimony about why he or she has chosen to be part of the local church. 4. Let prayer needs be known so those who are church tourists can see there is a family here that cares for one another. 5. Have someone share about a crisis that came to him or her and what it meant when the church surrounded the person with supporting love and prayer.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WHOLE BODY Once I had poison ivy on my face. My face swelled up and my mouth was contorted. Still, it never occurred to me to cut off my nose so the poison ivy wouldn’t get into it. Instead, a doctor treated the problem with a cortisone shot. Why did the doctor do that? She did it because the problem wasn’t just with my face. The problem was inside, and I had to treat it from the inside out. Although the problem showed up on my face, my whole body was involved. It’s the same with a church difficulty. Church people need to learn that cutting off a nose isn’t an option; working with the whole body is critical to healing. “So the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:21-22. “Or again, the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ But even more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary.” It would be easier to let the church tourist drift away. But wouldn’t it be better to help bring healing to the body as a whole? As church leaders, we have our work cut out for us.

BRING THEM BACK One of the most important things a church can do is have qualified men and women available to listen and speak to the disengaged. Often church tourists have experienced hurt caused by someone else in the church. Or perhaps they got caught in the middle of a church conflict. Church leaders and members can begin the steps toward healing by listening to the pain these people feel from earlier 42 • Facts & Trends

“God can use the love of church members to draw church tourists back into the family.” — Roger Palms

church problems. Hear their struggle. Let them know they aren’t alone. People who have become tourists know deep down inside they’re missing the togetherness of a church relationship they once knew. They don’t need a lecture—they need friendship. In addition to listening, pray for each church tourist. One of the richest experiences anyone can have is to hear his or her name and God’s name put into the same sentence in prayer. Reiterate in prayer the conversation, honestly saying to God what that person has said about his or her pain. Then ask for God’s healing. God can use the love of church members to draw lonely and hurting church tourists back into the family of fellow believers. It’s a rescuing that needs to be done. There are so many who are cut off and alone. They need what the church has—they need what the church is. ROGER PALMS, former pastor and editor of Decision magazine, is the author of 16 books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. He lives in Fort Myers, Florida.


Immersed in ministry TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION OF PASTORS By colin smith



hen it comes to learning how to become a pastor, you can’t just dip your toe in the water of local church ministry. What’s needed is a total immersion.

Seminaries are a gift of God to the church. They provide essential training and an outstanding environment for discovering the riches of biblical, systematic, and historical theology, along with the rigors of Greek and Hebrew. But when it comes to discovering the complexities of church leadership, the demands of sustaining a preaching ministry and the art of pastoral care, nothing can beat complete immersion in the life of a healthy local church. Weeping with those who weep is better learned at a funeral or beside a hospital bed than in a library. Rejoicing with


those who rejoice is better cultivated at a wedding or baptism than in a classroom. Preaching that connects ordinary believers with the Scriptures is better cultivated by addressing a congregation gathered for worship than a group of theological student peers in a laboratory. To provide these opportunities, the church I serve started The Orchard Network, whose mission is to grow gospel leaders for churches. We aim to do this by finding young leaders who give credible evidence of a call to ministry as pastors, church planters, and missionaries. Then we immerse them Facts & Trends • 43

in local church life, either through The Orchard or other likeminded churches in the greater Chicago area. Having completed our first two-year cycle, I am more convinced than ever that the local church has an irreplaceable role in preparing next-generation pastors, church planters, and missionaries for sustainable gospel ministry. In particular, the local church has a crucial role to play in regard to: 1. C  asting a vision for pastoral ministry.



he Orchard Network offers a bridge to ministry, and people can engage with it in one of two ways. Momentum is a two-year program for next-generation leaders which focuses on cultivating spiritual lives, strengthening doctrine, and developing ministry skills. The group meets Friday mornings, 9 a.m. to noon. Those who join commit not only to full participation in the program but also to full engagement in the life of the local church. The Residency Program offers fulltime immersion in the church, normally for two years. Residents are funded partly through the Orchard Network and partly through funds raised from the outside. Residents serve alongside pastors, lay leaders, and members of the congregation, participate in a broad range of ministries, and gain an in-depth and fully rounded experience of local church life. The Orchard Network has seven full-time residents and hopes to expand to 20 in the next few years. Learn more at theorchardnetwork.org.

Passion is caught rather than taught. If a fire for pastoral ministry is to burn in the heart of a young leader, it will most likely be lit by pastors who give their lives to the local church. Pastoral mentors show by their joy and example that they see this as a high calling and not as a stepping stone to something else. We become what we behold, and too often seminary students are distracted from a pastoral call because they do not immerse themselves in a church where they observe faithful pastors serving Christ. Instead, they immerse themselves in their studies and, looking to the model of their teachers, find their hearts turned toward academic pursuits. 2. O  pening doors for bivocational ministry. In many parts of the world, the economic base needed to support a team of vocational pastors and leaders simply does not exist. Bivocational pastors and missionaries are filling the gap. Even here in the United States, we are seeing an increase in bivocational church leaders. Many of these are being raised up and trained in local churches where they are challenged, stretched, and encouraged. A growing number of men and women in midlife are in positions where they could offer significant ministry leadership, and many of them would if

44 • Facts & Trends

they were called and equipped by the church. These mature believers can be sent out as church planting teams or use their careers as a platform to serve overseas. Eighteen months have passed since a small group of leaders in our church began meeting to pray that the Lord would raise up pastors, church planters, and missionaries from our congregation. We meet quarterly and, taking Acts 13 as our model, we have been asking the Lord who should be set apart from ministry, and then noting the names of people who come to our minds. Praying for these people has led to important conversations, and some have taken significant steps forward as a result. 3. Building stamina for a lifetime of ministry. My older son is preparing to compete, for the third time, in an Ironman triathlon—a brisk 2.4-mile swim, followed by 112 miles on the bike, followed by a 26.2-mile run. The preparation for this event is all about building stamina. He accomplishes this by doing, in increasingly demanding stretches, what he will have to do for the long haul on the day of the Ironman event. Without this preparation he would have little hope of sustaining the rigors of the Ironman. Sustaining ministry over the long haul depends more on building the strength of a person’s spiritual life than on giftedness, personality, or learning. The best way to build stamina for a lifetime in ministry is to be stretched through hands-on experience of what God is calling you to do for the long haul, and the best place for pastors, church planters, and missionaries to do this is in the local church. COLIN S. SMITH is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church, president of The Orchard Network, and Bible teacher on Unlocking the Bible (UnlockingtheBible.org). He’s the author of Momentum, a new Bible study from LifeWay. WINTER 2017

Younger leader gains ministry momentum


By carol pipes rad Wetherell is a graduate of The Orchard Network’s two-year Momentum program and now serves as the student pastor at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church. He credits his time in Momentum and learning from leaders like pastor Colin Smith with clarifying his call to ministry.

“When I started seminary, I wasn’t sure if I was being called to academic ministry or to pastoral ministry,” Wetherell says. “The Lord used my experience serving at The Orchard and in Momentum to confirm my call was to pastoral ministry.” Wetherell began the Momentum program while studying in seminary. He says the program built on the theological training he received in seminary and keyed in on three areas: life, doctrine, and skills. “During the life module, we spent time talking about personal godliness, our devotional life, and how to care for our spouses and families well. Those things are so important, but they don’t always make it into the seminary classroom,” he says. “The time we spent on our person-

“The time spent on our personal pursuit of Christ was so important. It was encouraging to be challenged in that way.” — Brad Wetherell

al pursuit of Christ was so important. It was encouraging to be challenged in that way.” During the doctrine module, Momentum participants spent time studying Scripture and ecclesiology. The module

on skills covered everything from preaching and pastoral care to leadership and church administration. “The heart of The Orchard Network is growing gospel leaders,” says Wetherell. “Much of the program is focused on equipping younger leaders to serve in the local church. And we’re learning from pastors and leaders who have walked the same path and are further along in ministry. That is such a blessing.” Wetherell said he’d love to see more local churches train younger leaders in ministry. “All it would take is for those who’ve been in ministry to be willing to give their time to train, encourage, and support the next generation of leaders in their churches or communities,” says Wetherell. “When local churches take on the responsibility of walking alongside younger leaders who want to give their lives to ministry, they have a much better chance of making it in ministry for the long haul.”

>>>> >>>>>> SPIRITUALLY STUCK? >>>>> You already have what you need. >> >>>> >>>> >> >> >>> Carol Pipes is editor of Facts & Trends.

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Responding to a friend who’s walked away from God By David Sanford

46 • Facts & Trends



Practical ministry ideas for your church


t’s not unusual to discover that a longtime friend, neighbor, or acquaintance has left church and seems to doubt much of what he or she once believed about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, the church, and the Christian faith.

So, how should we respond? Over the years, after making almost every mistake in the book, I’ve discovered 10 counterintuitive yet powerful steps to reach out to friends who have drifted away from the faith. I’ve been amazed by how God has worked through simple conversations where my friend talked and I listened. 1. Love your friend unconditionally. 2. Invite your friend to tell his or her story—and then just listen. Don’t ask questions. Don’t interrupt, except to quickly affirm you’re actively listening. 3. Be unshockable. Truth be told, we’ve all broken the Ten Commandments, at least in our hearts. Confession is good for the soul, so let your friend talk. Don’t react to anything he or she says, no matter how ugly or angry. Your friend is not angry at you, even if it sounds that way. 4. After your friend has finished talking, remain quiet. Keep listening. I remember a conversation I had with Leonard, who poured out his heart to me. I didn’t say a word. I just listened. When he was finished, I kept looking into Leonard’s angry, deeply hurt eyes and didn’t say anything. After a minute, with deepest sadness he said, “All I needed was hope and mercy.” What a profoundly haunting lament. Yet if I had started talking, I never would have heard what he needed. 5. Once your friend tells you what he or she needs, still don’t say anything. After Leonard told me, “All I needed was hope and mercy,”

I remained quiet for another minute. His eyes and facial expressions began to soften and change. Only God’s love can do that. Then Leonard told me, “And by listening to my story, you’ve given me both.” 6. Whatever you do, don’t promise to meet your friend’s needs. Often your friend will want to know the answer to a burning question: “Why?” You don’t know. Don’t even try to guess. Speculation will only ruin your credibility. 7. If you and your friend have a mutual friend who has a strong faith in Jesus Christ, explore the possibility of inviting that mutual friend to join you at some point in the future. If your friend can share his or her story with a second person, it’s often helpful. The mutual friend may be a pastor or another respected Christian leader. Or the mutual friend may be a mature Christian you both know you can trust. 8. Ask your friend if you can pray for him or her. If your friend is in agreement, pray right then. Then remind your friend from time to time you’re still praying for him or her. Prayer invites Jesus back into the picture. 9. At the right time, invite your friend to read the Bible with you. Read one of the four Gospels together. As you read, pray that your friend will fall in love with Jesus again. 10. Stay in touch with your friend no matter what. Your friendship can’t be contingent on whether your friend comes back to faith in


Jesus Christ. That’s up to Him, not you. You may have to hang in there for years before your friend re-embraces faith. No problem. Never give up on your friendship. True, some will walk away. But never let it be said that you walked away. DAVID SANFORD (@drsanford77) is author of Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think (Kregel), available this summer.

What’s your story?


y inviting a friend, neighbor, or acquaintance to tell his or her story, we learn more than a set of facts. If we listen carefully, we end up learning how the friend thinks, feels, and relates to others. Even more importantly, a bond is formed when we resist the temptation to talk and instead simply hear that person’s story, no matter how long it is. Yes, it may mean missing your next appointment. Something deep happens between that person and me once I’ve heard his or her story. I see glimpses of God’s fingerprints all over the story. It doesn’t always mean I’ll have the opportunity to introduce and eventually hook the person’s interest in God’s stories. But that’s often what happens. The crazy thing? People rarely ask, “What’s your story?” The person you ask may be caught off guard and put up an initial defense. But if you keep smiling, allow for silence, and then ask again, many will begin to share. Never hesitate to ask the simplest of questions. You never know where it might lead. “What’s your story?”

Facts & Trends • 47

ON OUR RADAR Practical resources for you and your church

Books and Bible Studies Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical By Timothy Keller (Viking)

In his latest apologetic work, Timothy Keller invites skeptics to consider the relevance and compelling nature of Christianity. Making Sense of God takes a step back before Keller’s previous The Reason for God and addresses those who fail to see a need to even give a thought to the claims of the Bible. Keller ably walks readers through core human needs and why Christianity best meets those needs. Christians can have their faith strengthened and become better prepared for inevitable questions in our age of skepticism.

The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life By Barnabas Piper (B&H)

Just because we grow up doesn’t mean we should lose our wonder at the world or the people around us. Curious is how God made us to be. Without curiosity, Christians’ lives are incomplete. They don’t know how to interact with the world around them—politics, media, art, entertainment, science, 48 • Facts & Trends

and so much more simply fly past them. Without curiosity they can never discover deep connections God tucked below the banal surface of life. Author Barnabas Piper explores what curiosity is and how it affects relationships. What would happen if people so sought to learn about each other that the most unlikely people become advocates and friends?

she reveals three steps proven to make relationships stronger.

Between Heaven & the Real World: My Story By Steven Curtis Chapman (Revell)

The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship By Shaunti Feldhahn (Waterbrook)

Think of your toughest relationship. Think of a relationship that’s good but could be great. Think of people who consistently annoy you. You want to show more kindness and generosity, but sometimes you’re simply tired, stretched, and frustrated. Besides, would small actions make much difference? Shaunti Feldhahn says yes. After years of extensive research, Feldhahn has concluded that kindness is a superpower. It can improve any relationship and can transform culture. In The Kindness Challenge,

For decades, Steven Curtis Chapman’s music and message have brought hope and inspiration to millions around the world. In his autobiography, Chapman openly shares experiences that have shaped his faith and music in a life with incredible highs and faith-shaking lows. Readers will learn about Chapman’s childhood and challenging family dynamic, how that led to music and early days on the road, his wild ride to the top of the charts, his relationship with wife, Mary Beth, and the growth of their family. In addition to stories of the background to his best-loved songs, readers will walk with Chapman down the devastating road of loss after the tragic death of his 5-year-old daughter, Maria. Poignant, gut-wrenchingly honest, yet always hopeful, Chapman offers no sugary solutions to life’s toughest questions.


These and other resources are available at LifeWay stores and LifeWay.com.

Among Wolves: Disciple-Making in the City By Dhati Lewis (B&H)

How do we turn passive participants into active disciple makers in an ever-changing urban context? We have reduced Christianity to concerts, conferences, and church services. We are surrounded by passive participants of Christianity, content to soak in information without any intent to make disciples. Among Wolves seeks to help readers move to obedience to the call of Christ to labor among wolves. Readers walk through eight significant movements in the book of Matthew, beginning with Jesus establishing His presence with us and extending to Him mobilizing an army to go and make disciples of all nations. As readers follow Jesus’ patterns and teachings in Matthew, they will be equipped to establish a thriving disciple-making culture in their context.

good theology, with the knowledge that our faith is rooted in truth and a rich history. This study of the Apostles’ Creed leads to greater clarity of our religion, greater symmetry and balance as a disciple, and a more profound sense of belonging in the kingdom of God.

Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny By Tony Evans (LifeWay)

The biblical account of Joseph clearly demonstrates that God is at work even when life seems to be going wrong. Even today, it’s easy to wonder why God would allow calamity to happen or if He’s in control at all. Whether through uncontrollable circumstances or the pain of personal relationships, everyone has experienced unforeseen changes in life. This six-session study helps believers navigate detours that may take

The Apostles’ Creed: Together We Believe By Matt Chandler (LifeWay)

Take your group through 12 sessions of an in-depth examination of the primary tenets of Christianity. The Apostles’ Creed was born from the apostles’ teachings. It contains essential doctrines and beliefs that summarize the gospel and the foundation of our faith. The scriptural truths contained in the creed enable us to build our Christian lives on FACTSANDTRENDS.NET

them through trials, injustice, and even betrayal.

Think Differently: Nothing is Different Until You Think Differently By James MacDonald (LifeWay)

Why do we lose our temper? Why do we hurt those we care for most? The reason is often the way we think. Beyond behaviors and attitudes, thinking determines outcome more than anything else. These 10 sessions demonstrate how God offers hope for victory over disposition, dysfunction, double-mindedness, and every other mental stronghold. With Him we can think differently.

Sunday School Matters Edited by Allan Taylor (LifeWay)

Train workers in the skills required to grow a viable Sunday School ministry and bring vibrancy to your church using these 12 sessions. Featuring 50- to 60-minute video training sessions from outstanding national leaders, Sunday School Matters covers topics ranging from teaching to evangelism and the structuring of this vital component of a healthy church.

Facts & Trends • 49

ON OUR RADAR Practical resources for you and your church


Pray 4 Every Home App A group of pastors became overwhelmed by the lostness around them and the realization that the status quo was not working, so they began asking, “What if we prayed for every household by name?” They began in their home state of Texas and then developed a website and app designed to encourage Christians everywhere to pray for their neighbors and seek opportunities to share the gospel. Pray4EveryHome.com

Keep Asking: LifeWay Research podcast On Keep Asking, the LifeWay Research team helps listeners process research findings on church and culture into valuable insights for their churches and ministries. Hosted by project manager Lizette Beard, in conjunction with executive director Scott McConnell and statistician Casey Oliver, Keep Asking delivers data-driven solutions in a fun and engaging way. The weekly podcast provides clarity on the role research can play at the intersection of church and culture, as well as how to understand, interpret, and take action based on statistics. LifeWayResearch.com

Conferences Battle Ready Men’s Simulcast February 3-4, 2017 • Speaker: Johnny Hunt

A war is waging, a daily spiritual battle for our hearts, minds, and souls. Fortunately, God has given us the tools to be Battle Ready. LifeWay is partnering with First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia, to host the Johnny Hunt Simulcast about putting on the “whole armor of God” and preparing to face the spiritual warfare that rages within us and around us. The simulcast includes three general sessions and two breakout sessions. Consider hosting a simulcast event at your church. LifeWay.com/Events

LifeWay Girls Conference 2017 February 24-25, 2017 • Brentwood Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee

Attend the LifeWay Girls Conference for networking, training, and encouragement. This two-day event will have breakout tracks designed specifically for middle school, high school, and college-aged young women, as well as ministry leaders and moms. Both leaders and students will leave empowered, encouraged, and equipped for ministry in the church and beyond. LifeWay.com/lgc 50 • Facts & Trends



OCTOBER 22-29, 2017 We’re sailing to the Caribbean! Depart from Cape Canaveral, FL (near Orlando). Enjoy beautiful Philipsburg, St Maarten; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Labadee, Haiti. Set sail with speakers Fred and Elizabeth Luter, Dr. Johnny Hunt, Angela Thomas-Pharr, singer/songwriter Laura Story, worship leader Travis Cottrell & comedian Jeff Allen!

LIFEWAY.COM/CRUISE Eve nt s u b j e c t to c h a n ge w i t h o u t n o t i ce.

Non profit Organization U.S. Postage


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Profile for Facts & Trends

Facts & Trends - Winter 2017 - SING  

Facts & Trends is designed to help pastors, church staff, and denominational leaders navigate the issues and trends impacting the church by...

Facts & Trends - Winter 2017 - SING  

Facts & Trends is designed to help pastors, church staff, and denominational leaders navigate the issues and trends impacting the church by...